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The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand

The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand

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The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand

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Mar 22, 2018


The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand is an account of an explorer in New Zealand in 1884, and his interactions with the Maori.

Mar 22, 2018

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The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand - J. H. Kerry-Nicholls




IN PUBLISHING THIS RECORD OF travel, I have deemed it advisable to arrange my narrative under four principal divisions. In the introductory portion I refer to the leading physical features of that part of the North Island of New Zealand known as the King Country, relate the leading incidents connected with its history, describe the condition of the native race, and explain the object with which my journey was undertaken. The succeeding chapters deal with my visit to the Maori King when presenting my credentials from Sir George Grey at the tribal gathering held at Whatiwhatihoe in October, 1882. The description of the Lake Country includes my route from Tauranga, on the East Coast, to Wairakei, and which led me through the marvellously interesting region familiarly termed the Wonderland of New Zealand, while in the pages embracing my explorations in the King Country I record events as they occurred from day to day over a lengthy journey which was delightful on account of its novelty and variety, and exciting by reason of the difficulties, both as regards natural obstacles inseparable from the exploration of an unknown region under the unfavourable conditions by which I was constrained to carry it out, and the deep-rooted jealousy of the native race against the intrusion of Europeans into a portion of the island which is considered by them to be exclusively Maori territory.

When it is considered that in company only with my interpreter, and with but three horses—ultimately reduced to two—and with what scant provisions we could carry, I accomplished considerably over 600 miles of travel, discovered many new rivers and streams, penetrated almost inaccessible regions of mountainous forest, found extensive areas of open plains suitable for European settlement, traced the sources of three of the principal rivers of the colony, examined the unknown shores of its largest lake, ascended one of the highest mountains of the southern hemisphere, experienced degrees of temperature varying from 80° in the shade to 12° below freezing-point, and successfully traversed from South to North, through its entire length, a territory with an area of 10,000 square miles, and which had been from the early history of the colony rigorously closed to Europeans by the hostility of the native tribes, it may be readily seen that the explorations, by their varied nature, disclose many important facts hitherto unknown concerning a vast and beautiful portion of New Zealand; and while they cannot fail to prove of practical utility to the colony, they will, I venture to think, be a welcome addition to geographical science.

The map appended to this work may be said to form the most complete chart of the interior of the North Island as yet published. Up to the present time the extensive territory embraced by the King Country has, owing to the obstruction of the natives, never been surveyed, and consequently many of its remarkable physical features have remained unknown, the existing maps of this part of the colony being mere outlines. As, therefore, considerably more than half of the country traversed was through a region which was, to all intents and purposes, a terra incognita from the commencement of my journey, I adopted a system of barometrical measurements and topographical observations, and thus secured a supply of valuable material, which I mapped out from day to day, while the names of mountains, rivers, valleys, and lakes were obtained from the natives by the skilful assistance of my interpreter, who was at all times unceasing in his endeavours to carry out this part of the work with accuracy.

The table of altitudes of the various camping-places and stations of observation throughout the country explored will be found to be of considerable interest and importance. By these results the conformation of a large portion of the island may be arrived at. Thus, beginning at Tauranga, and taking that place at ten feet above sea-level, it will be seen that the land rises rapidly from the coast-line for a distance of about twenty miles, when, at the Mangorewa Gorge, it attains to an altitude of 1800 feet; from that point it falls towards the South until the table-land of the Lake Country is reached, when, at Lake Rotorua, it has an altitude of 961 feet. From the latter place, still going southward, the table-land rises with an elevation varying from 1000 to 1500 feet, until it falls towards the valley of the Waikato, when at Atea-Amuri it is not more than 650 feet above the level of the sea. Further along it gradually rises until it reaches Oruanui, some fifteen miles distant, where an altitude of 1625 feet is attained, until the country again falls to the extensive table-land of Taupo, where over a large area it maintains an elevation varying from 1000 to 1400 feet, the great lake itself standing at an altitude of 1175 feet. Southward of Lake Taupo the Rangipo table-land varies from 2000 to 3000 feet, until it falls towards the South Coast, giving an altitude at Karioi, on the Murimotu Plains, of 2400 feet. Westward of this point the country falls gradually to 560 feet to the valley of the Whanganui, and from that region going eastward to the Waimarino Plains it attains to an elevation of 2850 feet in a distance of about thirty miles. Northward again along the western table-land of Lake Taupo it varies in height from 1000 to 2420 feet, until the Takapiti Valley is reached, where it is only 900 feet. In the Te Toto Ranges an altitude of 1700 feet is attained, until at Manga-o-rongo, a deep basin-like depression in the valley of the Waipa, the land is not more than 200 feet above sea level.

The wood engravings contained in this work are from original sketches by the author, with the exception of that of the native village of Lake Rotoiti, which is from a painting by the talented artist Mr. Charles Bloomfield. They were engraved by Mr. James Cooper of Arundel Street, Strand. The portraits of the native chiefs are from photographs taken by E. Pulman and J. Bartlett of Auckland. They have been reproduced by the Meisenbach process.

In the Appendix will be found a synopsis of the principal flora met with during the journey, together with that of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ruapehu, up to the highest altitude attained by plant-life in the North Island. A synopsis of the fauna is also added. Biographical sketches are given of King Tawhiao and several noted chiefs, with a list of the principal tribes and their localities. There is likewise a brief reference to the Maori language, with a compendium of the most useful native words.

In bringing this volume to its completion, I desire to acknowledge my indebtedness to Sir George Grey, K.C.B., for his letter of introduction to King Tawhiao; to Mr. C.O. Davis, for the willing way he at all times placed his scholarly knowledge of the Maori language at my disposal; to Mr. T.F. Cheeseman, F.L.S., for the classification of the flora of Tongariro and Ruapehu; to Mr. James McKerrow, Surveyor-General, for maps and charts of the colony; to Mr. Percy Smith, Assistant-Surveyor-General, for a correction of altitudes; to Mr. Robert Graham, of Ohinemutu, for voluntarily placing his best horses at my disposal; to J.A. Turner, for an unceasing earnestness of purpose in fulfilling his duties as interpreter; and to the Whitaker Ministry, for their recognition of the usefulness of my work.




GEOGRAPHICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE KING Country—Its political state—Efforts made to open it—Condition of the natives—Origin of the journey—Letter of introduction to the king.

THAT portion of the North Island of New Zealand known as the King Country extends (as near as the boundary can be defined) from lat. 38° to 39° 20′ S., and from long. 174° 20′ to 176° E. Its approximate area is equivalent to 10,000 square miles. In the north the aukati, or boundary-line—separating it from the European portion of the colony—passes by the southern shores of Aotea Harbour, thence easterly through the Pirongia Ranges in a direct line to the Waikato River, along which it follows nearly to Atea-amuri, from which point it strikes directly south to Lake Taupo. It takes in the whole of the western half of that lake; it then stretches south along the Kaimanawa Mountains to the Murimotu Plains, whence it goes westerly, round the southern base of Mount Ruapehu to the mouth of the Manganui-a-te-Ao River, and thence north-westerly until it joins the coast at a point a little to the north of Pukearuhe.

The physical features of this vast region present not only many beauties, but many natural advantages for European settlement, while it is one of the best watered parts of the island. In its southern portion the Whanganui River passes through it in a long winding course to the sea, fed by many tributaries flowing from the high mountain-ranges, both in the south and central divisions of the island. In the west the Mokau River and its affluents flow from its central region to the coast. In the north the Waipa Puniu and various other streams, having their sources in the Titiraupenga and Rangitoto Mountains, wind through it to the Waikato River; the high, wooded ranges of the central table-land form the sources of many watercourses disemboguing into Lake Taupo; while in the south-east the snow-clad heights of Tongariro and Ruapehu pour down their rapid waters in a perfect network of creeks and rivers. In the west it has a coast-line of over sixty miles, and it possesses one of the largest harbours in the island. Extensive forests cover a large portion of its southern area, and extend northerly over the broken ranges of the Tuhua to Mount Titiraupenga and the Rangitoto Mountains. Westward of this division there is a considerable area of open country, including the valley of the Waipa, which in its turn is bounded in the west by high, fern-clad hills and wooded ranges. In the vicinity of the high, snow-clad mountains in the south, there are vast open table-lands; while immediately to the west of Lake Taupo and north of Titiraupenga to the banks of the Waikato, there are again extensive open plains.

Geologically considered, the King Country possesses in extensive depositions all the strata or rock-formations in which both gold, coal, iron, and other minerals are found to exist, while its extensive forests are rich in timber of the most varied and valuable kind. Geysers and thermal springs possessing wonderful medicinal properties are found in the vicinity of its many extinct craters; and, while it possesses one of the largest active volcanoes in the world, its grand natural features are crowned by the snowy peaks of some of the highest mountains of Australasia. In the north the trachytic cones of Titiraupenga and Pirongia rise to an elevation varying from 3000 to 4000 feet, near to its south-western boundary the snowy peak of Taranaki, or Mount Egmont, attains to an altitude of 8700 feet, on its eastern confines the rugged crater of Tongariro sends forth its clouds of steam from a height exceeding 7000 feet, while on its southern side the colossal form of Mount Ruapehu rears its glacier-crowned summit to an altitude of over 9000 feet above the level of the sea.[1] With these important features nature has endowed it with scenery of the grandest order, and with a climate unsurpassed for its variety and healthfulness.

The political state of the King Country forms one of the most interesting chapters in the history of New Zealand. In the early days, before the colony was founded in 1840, and long after that event, there were no such obstacles to travelling through the island as existed in later times. The Maoris rather welcomed Europeans, who were free to go anywhere, except on places which were tapu,[2] or sacred in their eyes, and in consequence what little has been hitherto known of the King Country has been derived from the experiences of one or two travellers who penetrated into portions of it some thirty years ago. Among the most active of the early travellers was Ferdinand Von Hochstetter, a member of the Austrian Novara Expedition, who, in 1859, at the instance of Sir George Grey, at that time Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, made a tour through a portion of the North Island in company with Drummond Hay, Koch, Bruno, Hamel, and a number of European attendants and natives. At this time the Maoris were ready to welcome Europeans; hostilities between the two races had never broken out, and Hochstetter and his party were received and fêted everywhere with almost regal honours. But in the course of years, as it was evident to the natives that the Europeans were the coming power in the land, suspicion and distrust were excited, and at last the tocsin sounded.

The native chiefs, seeing that their influence was declining, and that in proportion to the alienation of the land, their mana or authority over the tribes decreased, began to bestir themselves in earnest. It was considered that a head was needed to initiate a form of Government among the tribes to resist the encroachments daily made by the Europeans, and which seemed to threaten the national extinction of the native race.

The first to endeavour to bring about a new order of things was a native chief named Matene Te Whiwi, of Otaki. In 1853 he marched to Taupo and Rotorua, accompanied by a number of followers, to obtain the consent of the different tribes to the election of a king over the central parts of the island, which were still exclusively Maori territory, and to organize a form of government to protect the interests of the native race. Matene, however, met with but little success. Te Heuheu, of Taupo, the great chief of the Ngatituwharetoa, at that time the most warlike tribe in the island, had no idea of any one being higher than himself, and therefore refused to have anything to do with the new movement, nor did Te Whiwi meet with much greater encouragement at Maketu and Rotorua. The agitation, however, did not stop, the fire once kindled rapidly spread, ardent followers of the new idea sprang up, and their numbers soon increased, until finally, in 1854, a tribal gathering was convened at Manawapou, in the country of the Ngatiruanui tribe. Here a large runanga, or council-house, was erected, which was called Tai poro he nui, or the finishing of the matter, and after many points had been discussed, a resolution was come to among the assembled tribes that no more land should be sold to Europeans. A solemn league was entered into by all present for the preservation of the native territory, and a tomahawk was passed round as a pledge that all would agree to put the individual to death who should break it. In 1854 another bold stand was made, and Te Heuheu, who exercised a powerful sway over the tribes of the interior, summoned a native council at Taupo, when the King movement began in earnest. It was there decided that the sacred mountain of Tongariro should be the centre of a district in which no land was to be sold to the government, and that the districts of Hauraki, Waikato, Kawhia, Mokau, Taranaki, Whanganui, Rangitikei, and Titiokura should form the outlying portions of the boundary; that no roads should be made by the Europeans within the area, and that a king should be elected to reign over the Maoris.

In 1857 Kingite meetings were held at Paetai, in Waikato, and at Ihumatao and Manukau, at which it was agreed that Potatau Te Wherowhero, the most powerful chief of Waikato, should be elected king, under the title of Potatau the First, and finally, in June, 1858, his flag was formally hoisted at Ngaruawahia. Potatau, who was far advanced in life when raised to this high office, soon departed from the scene, and was succeeded by his son Matutaera Te Wherowhero, under the title of Potatau the Second.

The events of the New Zealand war need not here be recited, but it may be easily imagined that during the continuance of the fighting the extensive area of country ruled over by the Maori monarch was kept clear of Europeans. But in 1863 and 1864 General Cameron, at the head of about 20,000 troops, composed of Imperial and Colonial forces, invaded the Waikato district, and drove the natives southward and westward, till his advanced corps were at Alexandra and Cambridge. Then followed the Waikato confiscation of Maori lands and the military settlements. The King territory was further broken into by the confiscations at Taranaki and the East Coast, but no advance was, however, made, by war or confiscation, into the country which formed the subject of my explorations. The active volcano of Tongariro is tapu, or strictly sacred, in the eyes of the Maoris, and several persons who had attempted to ascend it were plundered by the natives, and sent back across the frontier. On the west of Taupo Lake lies the Tuhua country, whose people had from the first, from the nature of the district, been much secluded from European intercourse, and who besides had given refuge to many of the desperadoes of the other tribes; while to the south-west of Taupo Lake were the people of the Upper Whanganui country, who have always been suspicious and hostile, while for some considerable time, too, the whole district was in terror of Te Kooti and his marauding bands. It is from these causes that the vast and important area embraced by the King Country has remained closed to Europeans, and, all things considered, it is a fact which must ever remain one of the most singular anomalies of British colonization, that, after a nominal sovereignty of forty years over New Zealand, this portion of the colony should have remained a terra incognita up to the present day, by reason of the hostility and isolation of the native race.

Having pointed out the leading causes which resulted in the closing of the King Country to European settlement, it will be interesting to glance at the endeavours which have been made by the different governments to break down the barrier of native isolation, and thus to throw open to the colonists an extensive area of the island, which is, in reality, as much a portion of British territory as is the principality of Wales. As is well known, since the termination of the lamentable war between the two races, the King natives have, on all occasions, jealously preserved their hostile spirit to Europeans; while the peculiar state of matters involved in the whole question, while unexampled in the history of any other part of the British Empire, has been naturally a source of annoyance and even danger to the several governments of the colony who have attempted from time to time to grapple with the native difficulty.

The New Zealand war concluded, or rather died out, in 1865, when the confiscated line was drawn, the military settlements formed, and the King natives isolated themselves from the Europeans. For ten years it may be said that no attempt was made to negotiate with them. They were not in a humour to be dealt with. About 1874 and 1875, however, it became evident that something would have to be done. The colony had greatly advanced in population, and a system of public works had been inaugurated, which made it intolerable that large centres of population should be cut off from each other by vast spaces of country which Europeans were not allowed even to traverse. From time to time during the whole period the awkward position of affairs had been forced on public attention by outrages and breaches of the law occurring on the border, the perpetrators of which took secure refuge by fleeing to the protection of Tawhiao, who then—as now—defied the Queen’s authority within his dominions.

Sir Donald McLean, while Native Minister, had several important interviews with the Kingites, with a view to bring about a better relationship between the two races, and as he was well known to the natives both before and during his term of office, his efforts had considerable effect in promoting a more friendly intercourse.

Again, Sir George Grey, when Premier of the Colony, attended two large native meetings in the King Country, in 1878, and opened up communication with the chiefs of the Kingites. At the second meeting at Hikurangi about seventeen miles beyond Alexandra, Sir George Grey laid before the natives definite terms of accommodation. He offered to give back to them the whole of the land on the west bank of the Waipa and Waikato rivers, and to confer certain honours on Tawhiao, the son of Te Wherowhero, who had succeeded to the kingship. At a subsequent meeting held at Te Kopua, in April, 1879, these offers were again made, but Tawhiao, for some reason which has never been satisfactorily explained, declined to accept them, and they were distinctly withdrawn.

With the advent of the Whitaker ministry into power, it was felt that another attempt should be made to deal with the Maori king, and accordingly, during the session of 1882, acts were carefully framed so as to facilitate the object. A Native Reserves Act was passed, under which natives could have placed any blocks of land they chose under a board which would have administered the property for the benefit of the owners. An Amnesty Act was also put on the statute-book, under which the government could have issued pardons to those natives who had committed crimes and taken refuge among the Kingites. The most sanguine hopes were entertained that this difficulty would at last be settled, and in a way which would be satisfactory for both peoples. The terms which Mr. Bryce, as Native Minister, laid before Tawhiao and his people at the Kingite meeting, held at Whatiwhatihoe in October of the same year, were so liberal as to surprise the whole country. A large tract of the confiscated land on the west bank of the rivers Waipa and Waikato was offered to be restored, while Tawhiao was to be secured in all the lands which he could claim in the King Country, and the government were to endeavour to procure for him and his people a block of land from the Ngatimaniapoto tribe, the most extensive landowners in his dominions. Altogether the amount of land to be restored amounted to many thousands of acres, most of it fertile and well suited for the purposes of the natives, or that section of them known as the Waikatos, of whom Tawhiao was the hereditary chief.

What the government proposed to do was that the king’s mana, or sovereign authority, should be removed by the best means, and that in doing so the utmost care should be taken that all of the natives of the king’s tribe should be provided for. This step was the more necessary from the fact that Tawhiao, although the acknowledged head of the Maori race, and exercising a supreme authority over the King Country, was, owing to the confiscation of his tribal lands which had taken place after the war, a comparatively landless monarch.

At the Kingite gathering at Whatiwhatihoe, Tawhiao, in view of the proposals made, was willing to take back the land, but objected to receive a salary from the government, to be called to the legislative council, or to be made a magistrate.[3] He, and those around him, saw that to have accepted these terms would have been equivalent to saying that he abdicated his position as king. That being, from the Native Minister’s point of view, the all-important matter, the negotiations could go no further, and the memorable meeting at Whatiwhatihoe broke up with Tawhiao still reigning as absolute monarch over one of the most extensive and fertile portions of New Zealand.

With my reference to the geographical, historical, and political features of the King Country, I will here allude briefly to the physical and social position of the native race as I found it during my travels through that portion of the island where the inhabitants dwell in all their primitive simplicity.

There can be no doubt whatever that the Maori race is greatly on the decrease,[4] and that the three principal diseases conducing to this result are phthisis, chronic asthma, and scrofula; the two first principally brought about, I believe, by a half-savage, half-civilized mode of life, and the latter from maladies contracted since the first contact of the people with Europeans. It is, however, clear that there is a large number of natives yet distributed throughout the King Country, and among them are still to be found, as of old, some of the finest specimens of the human race. A change of life, however, in every way different from that followed by their forefathers, has brought about a considerable alteration for the worse among the rising population, and, although during my journey I met and conversed with many tattooed warriors of the old school, and who were invariably both physically and intellectually superior to the younger natives, it was clear that this splendid type of savage would soon become a matter of the past.

I found the natives living much in their primitive style, one of the most pernicious innovations, however, of modern civilization amongst them being an immoderate use of tobacco among both old and young. Although most of the native women were strong and well-proportioned in stature, and apparently robust and healthy, there appeared to be a marked falling off in the physical development of the younger men, when compared with the stalwart, muscular proportions of many of the older natives—a result which may, no doubt, be accounted for by their irregular mode of life when compared with that usually followed by their forefathers, combined with the vices of civilization, to which many of them are gradually falling a prey. It is a notable fact, which strikes the observer at once, that many of the old chiefs and elders of the various tribes, with their well-defined, tattooed features and splendid physique, have the stamp of the noble savage in all his manliness depicted in every line of their body, while many of them preserve that calm, dignified air characteristic of primitive races in all parts of the world before they begin to be improved off the face of the earth by raw rum and European progress. On the other hand, the rising generation has altogether a weaklier appearance, and, although I noticed many buxom lasses with healthy countenances and well-developed forms, not a few of the younger men were slight of build, with a thoughtful, haggard, and in many instances consumptive look about them.

In both their ideas and mode of life they appeared to cling to their old customs tenaciously, and seemed to know little of what was going on in the world beyond their own country, while their religion, what little they possessed, evidently existed in a kind of blind belief in a species of Hauhauism, in which biblical truths and native superstition were curiously mixed. In matters of politics affecting their own territory they invariably expressed a desire that matters might remain as they were, and that they might be allowed to live out their allotted term in their own lands. From one end of the country to the other they seemed to entertain an almost fanatical faith in the power of Tawhiao, and they appeared to regard his influence in the light of our own legal fiction, that the king could do no wrong.

When I undertook to explore the King Country—being at the time only a new arrival in the colony—I found that it was a part of the British Empire of which I knew very little. I soon, however, learned that the extensive region ruled over by the Maori king was, to all intents and purposes, an imperium in imperio, situated in the heart of an important British colony, a terra incognita, inhabited exclusively by a warlike race of savages, ruled over by an absolute monarch, who defied our laws, ignored our institutions, and in whose territory the rebel, the murderer, and the outcast took refuge with impunity. This fine country, embracing nearly one half of the most fertile portion of the North Island, as before pointed out, was as strictly tabooed to the European as a Mohammedan mosque, and all who had hitherto attempted to make even short journeys into it had been ruthlessly plundered by the natives, and sent back across the frontier, stripped even of their clothes.

At this time—in the early part of the year 1882—Te Wetere, Purukutu, Nuku Whenua, and Winiata, all implicated in the cruel murders of Europeans, were still at large, bands of native fanatics, excited to the point of rebellion against the whites, were massing themselves together in large numbers at Parihaka, and singing pæans to the pseudo-prophet, Te

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